SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders was expecting to be away from his family and his 6-month-old, Lucas, over Christmas with the Wolves in the middle of a four-game road trip.
But Saunders got a surprise. The team gave him a ticket back to Minnesota so he could be with Lucas for his first Christmas.
The Wolves stayed in San Francisco after Monday’s game against the Warriors and practiced there Tuesday. After that practice, Saunders flew home, spent Christmas morning in Minnesota with his family and flew back to Sacramento on Wednesday night.
“It means a lot,” Saunders said. “I give a lot of credit to [President] Gersson [Rosas] for knowing that’s important, no matter what you’re going through.”
Saunders said he spent about 20 hours at home. The rest of the team convened for a Christmas dinner in Sacramento on Wednesday night, with the organization picking up the tab to fly players’ families to be there with them.
Saunders said amid an 11-game losing streak, it helps to have family around to ease the pressure.
“We do feel that what we’re going through right now will help us down the line,” Saunders said.
“But it helps us if we’re a family because during tough times, you get through it with your immediate family and you get through it with your basketball family, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns missed his fifth consecutive game Thursday, but he took the floor to go through some warmups for the first time on the road trip.
Towns, who is recovering from a sprained left knee, was moving slowly and wearing a sleeve on his leg while taking shots. But it represented a step in the right direction for his recovery.
“He’s progressing,” Saunders said. “We saw him do more movement today. It’ll be a continued day-to-day process, and we’ll see how he feels.”
It’s been tough for the Wolves not having Towns available, but Saunders has been encouraged by Towns’ progress.
“Losses are losses, but you always have a chance to right those losses,” Saunders said. “As long as you’re growing from there and you see a big picture to things and keep your eyes focused on that, you can always be encouraged. But having Karl out there, he’s clearly a big part of what we do. That’s very encouraging.”
After looking lifeless in Monday’s loss against Golden State, Saunders turned to the end of his bench for a spark from regular G-League contributors Jordan McLaughlin and Kelan Martin.
McLaughlin ended up scoring 19 points and Martin eight to lead a Wolves comeback that still came up short.
Saunders said he had confidence turning to McLaughlin and Martin, who had just rejoined the team, because they have been running the same plays and systems in Iowa that the Wolves have been running.
That’s not always the case across the NBA.
“That was a main reason why we were able to get back in the game was because we didn’t have to pare our playbook down just because we had guys who haven’t been with our group this whole time,” Saunders said. “We were able to run the same sets they were running in Iowa within that fourth quarter. So, everybody working together has been helpful.”
Saunders said whenever the Wolves add something new in practice, they communicate that with Sam Newman-Beck, Iowa’s head coach, or his assistants, to run the same things.
Saunders also mentioned the Wolves try some different things in Iowa that they don’t do at the NBA level.